Save Mayan Conservation Practices

Dec 4, 2013

Environmental Awareness with Picture Books

Under rain-heavy skies, ArtCorps Artist Isabel Carrió, teachers from the Xeman and Rancho de Teja schools and Josué Morales, the local artist who has collaborated on this project over the past two years, head to the most remote communities in the area of Los Rocosos in Totonicapan, Guatemala.

Student shows his illustration, environmental picture book workshop, courtesy of ArtCorps Artist Isabel Carrio

The picture book workshop is a continuation of the previous training workshops with the teachers with whom we created the book Wisdom of the Rocky Hillsides.

To break down the process for the teachers, we divided the workshop into two parts: writing and illustration. The steps we covered included body movement dynamics, word games, drawing exercises with music, shared reading and presentation of visual images.

Mind you, we are not telling just any story. We study and communicate such interconnected topics as reforestation, indigenous practices, recycling and garbage control, natural disasters, forest management and community empowerment. All of these issues are closely related and represent a cascade of causes and effects.

In just one morning consisting of four hours of work, we delved into these subjects, gently encouraging each student to fully participate. At the end of the session, amidst applause and congratulations, everyone got a chance to read their story out loud, show their drawing or pose for a photo in front of their colored chalk masterpiece on the floor.

It was a special activity because we Luis Quino from ArtCorps and Barbara Vallarino and Melissa Haley from our partner EcoLogic Development Fund shared the experience, and the 60-something students and the teachers were brimming with smiles and appreciation. But we are equally grateful to them, for having opened a space for us to share and, together, project a better future.

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Sep 19, 2013

Aroldo's Tree

The Young Leaders in Conservation and ArtCorps Artist Isabel Carrio were about to celebrate the completion of a stunning 80 x 90 foot mosaic made from plastic bottle caps, but one of the young artists was dissatisfied.

Aroldo asks me to bend down so he can whisper into my ear: “This isn’t good. I don’t like it.”

Meanwhile, the rest of the group celebrates the conclusion of the project that we’ve worked on for the last two months at the Xolsacmalja community library: An image measuring 80 by 90 feet made completely out of plastic drink bottle tops. An attempt to make a game, and manifest color, out of recycling. A plastic mosaic.

Between the shrieks of the other workshop participants, empty glue bottles scattered on the floor, and struggles to grab the camera, I want to know why Aroldo isn’t happy with the final outcome. He was the one, after all, who created the design on the vinyl and he never missed a single workshop.

Aroldo remains at a distance and continues to shake his head NO.

Finally he says to me: “Tree trunks are not pink.”

Hmmm. “Matisse was a very famous painter who painted trees red.” It is the first thing that comes to mind as I search for an answer that will make him feel like an “understood artist.”

But Aroldo keeps looking for brown drink tops within the bag. There’s not a single one! Funny that the drink companies here don’t use brown in their product design.

I try to make sure that the rest of the group doesn’t get discouraged over the “pink trunk.” So, as a closing activity, we imagine the dawn, when the sun bathes the forests and cities, the adobe houses and the buildings, in pinks and oranges. We can only see it for a few minute. Aroldo, now you see?

His buddies have already put away the materials and are playing ball on the field, but Aroldo is still looking skeptically at the plastic tree.

Meanwhile, evening is falling and if we look beyond the soccer field, the forest is tinged with pinks and purples.

This project is being carried out in collaboration with EcoLogic Development Fund.

Jun 17, 2013

Wisdom of the Rocky Hillsides

Wisdom of the Rocky Hillsides
Wisdom of the Rocky Hillsides

The colorful book “Wisdom of the Rocky Hillsides” (Etamabál re u wo Xaq) is hot off the press. In preparation for the book launch at the Boston Public Library on May 16, 2013, ArtCorps Artist Isabel Carrió journeys through the book’s eight stories and captivating illustrations.

These short stories from the communities of the Panquix, Rancho de Teja, Xolnahualá, Xeman, Chuipec, Patuj, Chuicaxtun and Pacapox in Totonicapán, Guatemala, transport us with images of communal forests, birds, snakes and dolls made of gold that bring good fortune. These ancestral stories, told by the grandmothers and grandfathers of these communities to their grandchildren, transmit important messages about caring for the forest and water resources, respecting nature and the close relationship between human beings and the natural world.

This inter-generational project, which began months ago while traversing the mountain roads of these far-flung communities, has become tangible through this book dedicated to keeping traditional memory alive. By documenting stories from this oral tradition, we seek to preserve the cultural identity and understanding of the K’iche’ Mayan people for generations to come. Read more about the process of documenting and illustrating the stories.

Thanks to the grandmothers and grandfathers, and the teachers and the children who participated in this project, today we have a document that keeps the indigenous K’iche’ Maya language alive and takes us on a timeless journey to a place where rocks have special powers and forests embrace the clouds.

This project was realized in collaboration with EcoLogic Development Fund.

Conservation Activity
Conservation Activity
Connecting Youth to Ancestral Practices
Connecting Youth to Ancestral Practices
Mar 20, 2013

Victor: The Littlest Changemaker

Thank you to all of our supporters for helping to prepare young leaders like Victor! The story of “the littlest changemaker” is told by ArtCorps Artist Isabel Carrió, who has worked with Victor and the other ArtCorps’ Youth Leaders in Conservation in Guatemala since January 2012.

In the first of the ArtCorps’ Youth Leaders in Conservation workshops, Victor was timid and withdrawn. But as the weeks went by, he began to show a new side of himself. Creative activities helped him break through his shell, and Victor began to express himself and engage in the learning process. His reserved manner became one of joy and confidence–and the peers who used to ignore him now admired his work. If he didn’t show up to a workshop session, everyone asked about him.

Over the year, the smallest member has become the group’s natural leader. Back in August 2012, a portrait taken by Victor was showcased in the Green Week photography exhibit. He is the most creative and passionate participant, and Victor has developed the ability to lead us to places we never dreamed of.

Dec 14, 2012

The Power of the Scepter

ArtCorps Artist Isabel Carrio
ArtCorps Artist Isabel Carrio

ArtCorps Artist Isabel Carrió invokes Fred Astaire to facilitate a dynamic exchange around shared power and tradition in the first training workshop with members of the Natural Resources Council of 48 Cantons, Totonicapán.

When I came to visit Totonicapán for the first time, I thought I knew all there was to know about 48 Cantons: it has one of the most deeply rooted structures for indigenous self-determination among the first peoples of the country. The area is also known for their community work to protect forests, water and natural resources.

Nonetheless, as I walked the streets I saw the people carrying a black stick in their hands; I thought: people DANCE here in Totonicapán. The image of Fred Astaire with his black cane and tap shoes flashed in my mind.

But that was not the case. The scepter in Totonicapán is the HIGHEST SYMBOL OF AUTHORITY. Whoever is carrying the scepter is, at that very moment, representing the power of the Maya Quiché people of Totonicapán and its villages. A tradition that is over 200 years old.

For the inhabitants of Totonicapán, the scepter is a well-established symbol, and one with which they are very familiar. For the uninitiated, it can awaken foreign and fantastic interpretations.

Under that idea, we designed a workshop together with the members of the Natural Resource Council. The idea was to deconstruct the significance of the scepter, taking it out of context, and then reconstruct its importance to reaffirm its living presence. The intent of this activity was to help conserve ancestral practices.

I sent an email to some friends around the world, attaching photos of the people of Totonicapán holding the black stick in different daily situations. I asked my friends what they thought of these images. Who were the people in the photos? Why were they holding black sticks?

Yuko, from Japan, said they might be police officers who were using the sticks to protect women and children from would-be thieves. Silvia, from Spain, said that they must be healers who carried herbs in their sticks to heal the population. Sunil, from the USA, thought they might be religious students. Amalia, from Italy, thought they were retirees. Eva, from Germany, said that they might be magicians going to perform at a children’s party.  Anki, from Norway, also thought they could be dancers. And Zartosht, from Iran, said that the sticks were to keep bad spirits away.

I shared these answers with the nearly 40 members of the Council. They listened intently, with reactions ranging from alarm to laughter.

As soon as I finished reading the responses, the council members began to speak out, as if defending themselves. Taking their feet and raising their voices, they extolled the importance of their scepters.  Without further prodding they spoke for more than 30 minutes, expressing ideas that included:

  • “Authority is music, authority is song. Sometimes it’s played low, sometimes it’s sad, and sometimes it’s joyful. But everybody listens.”
  • “Authority is like marriage, where partners respect each other. We are together in good times and bad.”
  • “Authority is related to water and forests. Water is life, and authority is life, too.”
  • “Authority is the sun and justice for all, regardless of race or social condition.”

The president of 48 Cantons,  Carmen Tacam, told us that she feels energy through the scepter: “The scepter holds the power, we are just intermediaries.”

Just as the scepter can be a blessing in the lives of those who carry it, it can also be a curse if people do not know how to use it appropriately. The scepter cannot be loaned to anyone.  It can be used only by the person who carries it for that year.

Carmen also told us that the scepter only changes hands on the last day of the year, as it is passed on to the new Council President. The scepter is left in rosewater, in a clay pot. Rose petals are spread upon it, and it is left to rest for the night on December 31. A candle is lit, incense is burnt, and thanks are given for the protection, aid and wisdom that the scepter has granted that year. The scepter can then be passed on to the new authorities with new energy.

As we were all motivated after the intense discussion and exchange of ideas, we decided to set up a sort of mandala in our work space. Everyone spontaneously put their scepters in the circle. Through the exercise of drawing we joined into this year of mandalas, this time representing the past, present and future, as individuals and groups had done before us.

The morning flew by and before we knew it, we were having lunch amidst mandalas that had been filled with our concerns and hopes. And we had renewed energy to finish out the year.

This project is being implemented in collaboration with the EcoLogic Development Fund

ArtCorps Artist Isabel Carrio
ArtCorps Artist Isabel Carrio
ArtCorps Artist Isabel Carrio
ArtCorps Artist Isabel Carrio

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Ipswich, MA, United States

Project Leader

Louisa Trackman

Ipswich, MA United States

Where is this project located?

Map of Save Mayan Conservation Practices